Sodium Intake, Its Role in the Body. Everything in Moderation
Sodium is essential to human life. The body needs sodium for our muscles and nerves to work properly. Having said that, too much sodium can be a bad thing. The excessive intake of sodium can lead to high blood pressure. In turn, high blood pressure increases the risk of various cardiovascular diseases.
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, individuals should not consume more than 2,300mg of sodium per day, and certain people should limit their sodium intake to only 1,500mg per day. These figures roughly translate to a .75 to 1 teaspoon of salt per day.
Where is It Found and in What Forms?
Salt is not the only common source of sodium in our daily diet. People tend to equate sodium with salt, but the two are not the same thing. Sodium is a naturally occurring mineral that is either found in food or added to it. Salt is a combination of sodium and chloride. Each grain of salt is made up of about sixty percent sodium and forty percent chloride in terms of its weight.
Here are the approximate amounts of sodium in a given amount of table salt:
- 1/4 teaspoon salt = 575 mg sodium
- 1/2 teaspoon salt = 1,150 mg sodium
- 3/4 teaspoon salt = 1,725 mg sodium
- 1 teaspoon salt = 2,300 mg sodium
Many of the foods that we eat each day that doesn’t even taste salty are actually major sources of sodium. On the average, more than seventy-five percent of sodium intake comes from pre-packaged, processed and restaurant food. This makes it potentially difficult to limit or even monitor our sodium intake because it is already added to food before we even buy it.
A lot of people may be surprised to learn that bread can be a major source of sodium. Even if a single serving of bread may not seem to contain a lot of sodium, the sodium can really add up because we tend to eat slices of bread several times a day.
Cold cuts and cured meats can also contain a surprising amount of sodium. One two-ounce serving, which is about six thin slices, may already provide us with up to half of our daily sodium needs. Canned soup can also be a big contributor to our daily dose of sodium. The sodium in just one cup of canned soup can range anywhere from 100 to 914 milligrammes. We may not realise it, but just one bowl of canned soup might already give us more than half the sodium we need for the day.
When it comes to restaurant food, pizza and sandwiches may rate among the highest in sodium content. This is because, on top of the bread used in both foods, pizza and sandwiches also tend to be full of processed food. The sodium content of our pizza or sandwiches mostly depends on the toppings of the pizza or the filling of the sandwich or even the kind of cheese or bread used in either. One slice of pizza can contain up to half of our daily sodium requirements while one sandwich or burger from a fast food restaurant can already contain more than a hundred percent of an average person’s daily sodium needs.
Another food item that many people may be surprised to learn may potentially contain a large amount of sodium is poultry. Sodium levels vary greatly in poultry depending on the method of preparation.
What We Can Do to Reduce Our Sodium Intake
When shopping for food at the market or grocery, it is important to choose packaged and prepared foods carefully. Because different brands of even the same food can contain very different levels of sodium, we should read food labels so we can choose the product with the lowest amount of sodium. This applies not only to canned soup or cured meats, but even to condiments like ketchup, dips, and even bottled salad dressing.
We should also apply the same caution we use for processed and pre-packaged foods to poultry. We should pick poultry that hasn’t been injected with a sodium solution. We can check the fine print on the packaging for terms like “broth,” “saline” or “sodium solution.”
In cooking, we can reduce sodium intake by supplementing salt with herbs or spices so we won’t need as much salt to make our food tasty. But if you’re still craving for that salty taste, instead of adding salt, cooking food on a salt block can also significantly reduce the sodium content in your food.
Aside from replacing salt with other alternatives, we can also lessen our sodium intake through careful food preparation. When using canned beans or vegetables, we should rinse and drain the beans or vegetables carefully. This simple step can reduce the sodium in those processed foods by up to 40 percent.
Countering Sodium’s Effects
Potassium can help to counter the effects of sodium on our bodies. Some foods that contain potassium are sweet potatoes, potatoes, greens, tomatoes and lower-sodium tomato sauce, white beans, kidney beans, non-fat yoghurt, oranges, bananas and cantaloupe. Potassium can even help to lower your blood pressure.
Restaurant food is also a major source of sodium and we usually don’t see how the food in a restaurant is prepared. We can still lessen our sodium intake at a restaurant though, simply by requesting that our dish to be made without extra salt. Another culprit in high sodium levels could be the way we season our food ourselves. Before adding any salt to the dish served to us at a restaurant, we should taste the food first. If the food is lacking in flavour, we can add pepper instead of salt, or even use a slice of lemon to make our food tastier.
When reading a menu, we should watch out for foods described as being au jus, pickled, brined, barbequed, cured, smoked, or contain broth, soy sauce, miso, or teriyaki sauce. These foods have a tendency to be high in sodium. On the other hand, foods that are described as steamed, baked, grilled, poached, or roasted may have less sodium.
If we are still not sure about the sodium levels in our food, the easiest way to monitor our sodium intake is by asking our waiter about the sodium content of the menu items. A good waiter can help us choose menu items that have less sodium but are not necessarily lacking in the taste department.
M is a happily married Filipino mother to three wonderful little daughters, ages: 8 years, 5 years, and 4 months old. Her daily life is a struggle between being the Executive Content Director for Project Female and deciding who gets to watch television next. She specializes in creating and editing content for female empowerment, parenting, beauty, health/nutrition, and lifestyle. As the daughter of two very hardworking people, she was brought up with strict traditional Asian values and yet embraces modern trends like Facebook, vegan cupcakes, and the occasional singing cat video.